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Unkempt, Urban, Ubiquitous.
American Apparel's creative cottons take over the world, one track jacket at a time.
The Minnesota Daily
Kara Nesvig
October 4, 2007

"I'll take a cranberry Flex-Fleece hoodie and a Hangover Hat with a side of '70s soft-core porn, please,"

... is what one would order at the American Apparel Café, should such a wonder exist. A waitress in a body-hugging, slightly nipple-exposing white leotard and knee-high gym socks would jot down your request, and then hand it to a vaguely ethnic-looking cook in a terrycloth leisure robe, headband, and gold lamé hot pants. Before you know it, your order is delivered to you wrapped in a no-fuss plastic bag. You marvel at the softness of the cotton, the deep deliciousness of the color, and at the perfection of the fit; so overtaken are you by wonder at such perfect simplicity that you look around to notice that every other diner looks just as comfortably, effortlessly chic as you. It's a myriad of high-quality Henleys in the sheerest of jerseys, skirts with the perfect amount of drape, and rainbows of tank tops in every color you could ever dream of. No, little deep-v Dorothy, this isn't Oz; it's American Apparel - and it's planning to take over Minneapolis, one track jacket at a time.

The mythical status of American Apparel is quickly approaching legend. Though it was only gifted to us in 1997 by CEO Dov Charney (more on him later), the brand has skyrocketed to success; they've opened hundreds of new stores all over the world in this past year alone. American Apparel Jerusalem? Sure. American Apparel Hong Kong? It'll happen. And all this fuss for a bunch of T-shirts? Absolutely.

Customers wouldn't have it any other way. "The pieces are so simple but can be worn in countless ways. I love that I can buy a blue v-neck tee and wear it with jeans or a high-waisted skirt. It's essential for everyone's wardrobe," says senior Lindsay Johnson, spotted wearing American Apparel's ultra-popular tri-blend fabric T-shirt.

"It's somewhere you can buy a dress with a silhouette," adds Uptown store shopper Carly Scheer. Clearly they're doing something right.

Besides the fabulousness of the fashion, American Apparel has an admirable reputation. The clothes are made domestically; everything comes to you direct from Los Angeles. There's no trace of anything from Malaysia, China or Pakistan; it's 100 percent "sweatshop free."

American Apparel has also gained quite a reputation for its excellent treatment of its employees. They boast of creating more than 5,000 jobs and their employees glow with appreciation. "They treat us so well, and working here I'm getting more pay than I've had anywhere else in retail; my benefits, breaks and discount are all so great," says Uptown American Apparel staff member Vienna Wilson.

And it's finally trickled down to Minneapolis. The Uptown store opened Friday, Sept. 21 and business has been "fantastic," according to store manager Aaron Murphy.

"I was surprised it hadn't come to Minneapolis sooner; it's the greatest location for the store besides Chicago and Los Angeles," he said.

Obviously its Uptown locale (it's housed in the old American Eagle building) is perfect for the store's target clientele: young, fashionable people. "I hope we'll bring some re-growth and revival to the Uptown area; it's gone downhill lately because so many businesses are closing," Murphy said. (Need we remind you that American Eagle itself only lasted several months in its Uptown location?) Murphy has a point: Uptown these days is much less brilliantly lit and full of life than in its past incarnations.

But what can save it? Rumors of an H&M moving into that ghost town of a Gap building float all over Minneapolis, and maybe the combination of American Apparel and H&M, fashion-forward retailers renowned for their great garments with even greater prices, will breathe some new life into everyone's (including Prince) favorite too-cool-for-you hangout. After all, what is our beloved Calhoun Square without a herd of hipsters?

Speaking of those cardigan-wearing, thrift-store-haunting kids rocking Animal Collective in their earbuds, what is it that makes American Apparel such a hipster hotspot? Is it the ultra-short hot pants one can rock with an itsy-bitsy vest and '70s throwback gym socks? The wear-with-anything leggings that even come in blindingly shiny silver? Is it the skintight, figure-clinging dresses that still manage to flatter and draw catcalls? Or perhaps it's the unisex appeal of nearly every garment? Maybe it's the indie-kid staple scarves that can be worn in over 50 ways? In its very simplicity, American Apparel's designs encourage your creativity; have fun, accessorize, don't take fashion too seriously! And what's more classically American than a white t-shirt? Dress it up, dress it down, do what you want. We've laid out the basics for you; now make them your own.

The grassroots appeal of the business is also a draw for the young and political; American Apparel's anti-sweatshop aesthetic is refreshing in a world where your Gap sweater was sewn in Indonesia and your Hollister jeans were pieced together in India. The young and hip citizens of the world have their fingers on the cultural pulse, and right now that pulse is beating out: "American Apparel." And although American Apparel's target audience is definitely the youth, there's no reason why your mom can't don some of their more understated garments; just keep her away from the hot pants!

However wonderful, American Apparel raises its share of eyebrows. CEO Dov Charney, a 38-year-old Canadian who began his forays into the great big world of cotton vending as a college student, isn't shy about the use of sex to sell his product. "We like sexy at American Apparel," he has stated.

Charney has also gotten a bit of heat from critics for his antics; when being interviewed for the now-defunct "Jane" magazine (R.I.P!) several years ago, Charney had no qualms about pleasuring himself in front of the reporter. He encourages relationships between co-workers and often dates his employees. His free-love ethic and utter openness about sexuality draw plenty of disapproval, but it has proven to be a business aid. A swirl of controversy only adds to your mystique, after all.

And American Apparel is sexy indeed. Take a peek yourself: Surf around the Web site or check out the displays in-store; the models are almost always in various states of undress, as if the photographer has caught them in the heat of an intimate moment - or in the glow of the aftermath.

The advertisements are striking in their simplicity; the models are often plain and bland-faced, starkly juxtaposed against a plain white backdrop. It's reminiscent of 1970s soft-core pornography. The male models sport barely-there boxer shorts and slight mustaches while the females are untouched by makeup. They are blank canvasses for you to project your own fashion fantasies upon. Often the images are such raw and racy interpretations of the human form that they make you a bit uncomfortable.

But using sex and sensuality to sell style is nothing new. Designers like Calvin Klein, Gucci, Versace and even your friendly neighborhood Abercrombie & Fitch have toed the line between fashion and fornication for years. Sex sells - everyone knows that.

"We're straight out of L.A. We're boisterous. The people expect that from American Apparel," says Murphy. "And people recognize it as a genuine, legitimate company too - good clothes, good prices."

With your curiosity now sparked and visions of pencil skirts and cardigans dancing in your dreams, get yourself to the Uptown location and dive into the wonderful world of American Apparel. All the cool kids are doing it.
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